The 8-minute video “3 Guys, 1 Hammer” is infamous. I wanted to discover the story behind it.
This is another entry into my series of a behind-the-scenes look at the episodes I write for the podcast Casefile. These posts will explain how and why I choose each case and the research that goes into writing the stories.
This post is about Episode 92 – Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs. Best to listen to it before reading on, as there will be spoilers below.
Several years ago, back when the internet was still quite young, gore sights were all the rage. Many of us remember as teenagers sneaking home with video cassettes of Faces of Death or The Killing of America. They were crappy, hastily thrown-together clips of murders and accidental deaths, both real and faked, made into “documentaries” purely for the shock value. The advent of the internet brought shock shows to the next level. Clips from the videos were digitised and uploaded, along with photographs captured from a variety of sources. The sites were constantly updated with new material and competed with each other for the freshest, goriest additions.
The ante was upped again with mobile phones that doubled as a camera. The chance of an horrific accident, suicide or homicide being caught on film had suddenly increased a thousandfold, as did the chance that someone would deliberately film themselves carrying out heinous acts.
My cousin sent me a link to the video “3 Guys, 1 Hammer” sometime during the heyday of the shock sites. I had long tired of viewing gore for gore’s sake. It felt horribly disrespectful to the victims to view their deaths as entertainment. I lasted less than a minute of the 8 minutes that made up 3 Guys, 1 Hammer, which depicted the murder of a middle-aged man on a bicycle by two teenagers, using a hammer and a screwdriver. The teens clearly filmed the act themselves, with close-ups and the sounds of the unfortunate man’s final minutes in a wooded area somewhere in Eastern Europe. Others weren’t as squeamish as me, however, and the video went viral. It became the litmus test for gore footage, and the film that many of even the most jaded could not stomach to the end. The brutality and senselessness of the murder and sounds that could not be unheard put an end to the appetite of such films for many people.
I came across the video again when researching The Darkest Web, thanks to an essay by David Kerekes in Snuff: Real Death and Screen Media. Kerekes said that the growth of the internet and ready availability of cameras meant he would need to revisit his book, Killing for Culture, the seminal text on snuff films. New technologies had rendered some material out of date:
The likes of the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs, Islamic State and Magnotta were never a foreseeable part of the original “plan”, goalposts change often in the new millennium.
– David Kerekes
When I was considering stories for a Casefile script, I decided to look further into the story of the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs, the name given to the teen serial killers who carried out 21 slayings, including the murder in 3 Guys, 1 Hammer. Most of all, I wanted to find out about Sergei Yatsenko, the victim in the video. Who was he? Why had he been chosen? Did he have a family?
There is little information about the Maniacs in English, other than the Wikipedia page. That led to news articles, which provided me with the Russian and Ukranian spellings for the names of the perpetrators and their victims. I started the frustrating and painstaking job of Google-translating Russian and Ukranian news reports into English, which is a far from exact science. The biggest problem is that Google often does not translate personal pronouns correctly, replacing the feminine with the masculine and vice-versa frequently (“he” becomes “she”, “mother” becomes “father”, “uncle” becomes “aunt” etc). Then there was the issue of not knowing which news sources are trustworthy. It became a matter of laboriously reading through every article I could find – hundreds of them – and if enough of them reported the same thing, I would accept that as accurate. I gave extra weight to articles that had direct-quote interviews with families of the victims and parents of the murderers.
A lengthy Chilean documentary was handy and I was able to find a version with English subtitles. I also discovered that I could watch Russian news reports at the time – using a function in Youtube that provides closed captioning, and then translates the captions into English. It was far from perfect, but enough to get the gist of what was happening.
More difficult was finding out anything that happened after their appeals were exhausted. The third accomplice of the Maniacs, Alexsander Hanzha, should have been released from prison no later than February 2018, but I couldn’t find what had become of him. I tried posting some questions in the /r/Ukraine subreddit, but got no answers there either.
In the end, the editors at Casefile chose to remove the references to 3 Guys, 1 Hammer, which I initially was resistant to as that was the whole basis of my interest in writing the script. They were concerned that it would cause listeners to search out the video for themselves, whilst I felt sure that nobody want to watch it after they heard the descriptions of its contents and got to know Sergei. I turned out to be a lousy judge of human nature, as hundreds of listeners reported seeking out the footage. Nearly all of them then posted some variant of I wish I hadn’t watched it because it will haunt me forever.
This was a tough one to write, both technically and emotionally, but I am glad that I got to know proud, brave Sergei Yatzekno, faithful husband, loving father, doting grandfather, beloved for his generosity and kindness, and a man who has left an unthinkable legacy: he will forever be known as the faceless victim from 3 Guys, 1 Hammer.
FOR THE FULL STORY Don’t miss PSYCHO.COM: SERIAL KILLERS ON THE INTERNET out now
The Darkest Web is now available on Kindle in the Amazon US and Canadian stores. At this stage they don’t seem to be selling physical copies, but they are available with free worldwide shipping from Book Depository.